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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 158 | Septiembre 1994
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Nicaragua

NICARAGUA BRIEFS

Envío team

NO LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL

A month of drastic energy rationing throughout Nicaragua (cuts of eight hours a day at first, now reduced to four) has severely affected the country's already moribund small manufacturing sector. The 400 member association of small and medium businesses announced that production had dropped between 20% and 40%, with losses mounting to some 10 million córdobas (nearly US$1.5 million). Shops have been forced to lay off an estimated 1,200 workers, about 30% of those employed in this sector.

Even more upsetting to Nicaragua's many baseball fanatics is that they cannot follow the 32nd World Amateur Baseball Championship, held in Nicaragua this year with teams from 16 countries. While the Nicaraguan Energy Institute promised light to all stadiums around the country where the playoffs are being held, as well as to the Managua hotel where the teams are staying, the lights went out briefly in Managua's Rigoberto López Pérez stadium on August 3, just as President Violeta Chamorro was pitching the ball to open the first game. Many poor complain that they cannot pay the under $2 gate fee and miss many games on their radios at home due to the energy cuts.

GEARING UP FOR THE 1996 ELECTIONS

Various political sectors have proposed reforms to the current Electoral Law prior to the 1996 elections. The most important are 1) that a second round be established for cases in which no presidential candidate wins a majority, 2) that municipal mayors be elected directly by the voters and not by the newly elected councilors, and 3) that Nicaraguan citizens living abroad be allowed to cast absentee ballots.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) announced that some 2.5 million Nicaraguans will be eligible to vote in the 1996 elections, and that the electoral process will cost US$40 million. The CSE requested $28 million from the international community to help cover various phases of that process.

The CSE is currently in the phase of providing voter registration cards to citizens, which will eliminate the need for the costly registration process each time. The document will also serve as an ID card, unprecedented in the country.

VIOLENCE STILL RISING

Both political and criminal violence is continuing to mount in the peasant zones in the north and central part of the country. Public transport and productive work is seriously affected on a daily basis. Cattle rustling, rapes, armed assaults, killings and the kidnapping of producers for ransom account for an average of four or five news stories each day. Almost all of these crimes have gone unpunished.

In a July 30 communiqué evaluating various aspects of the national situation, including the uncontrollable rural violence, the FSLN stated that "in the current circumstances of extreme insecurity in which Sandinista and non Sandinista peasants live, the FSLN claims as legitimate the right to self defense with the means that guarantee the life and property of our brothers."
According to Police data, 7,333 criminal charges against people and 14,951 against property were made in the first half of 1994, a 15% increase over the same period of 1993. Since most crimes committed in the rural zones go unreported due to fear of the perpetrators or distrust of the authorities, most of these charges were filed in urban areas, 42% in Managua alone.

MORE CUTS IN SOCIAL SERVICES

Reynaldo Antonio Tefel, social welfare minister during the Sandinista administration and now director of the Institute of Human Promotion (INPRHU), reported that, between April 1990 and June 1994, the Chamorro government closed 93 child centers around the country. These closures 20 urban infant cafeterias, 6 of the 76 rural ones, 11 of the 22 preventive centers, 1 of the 3 centers for the protection of minors, the 3 occupational rehabilitation centers, 5 of the 31 urban pre school centers and all of the 54 rural ones have affected over 12,000 children from poor families. The public child centers still in operation are suffering increasing deterioration.

MILITARY CODE ON HOLD

The increasingly heated National Assembly debate over the draft of the new Military Code was suspended for a three week parliamentary recess after 91 articles had been approved. Referring to the breakdown of the consensus that had been established for the code's passage by the FSLN's 39 deputies and 13 from other ex UNO parties, army chief General Humberto Ortega declared that a truce had been called due to "the political immaturity of some."
PROPERTY UPS AND DOWNS

Despite tensions in the National Assembly over the debate about the Military Code, the legislature quickly and almost unanimously passed a law on July 12 that will revalue the bonds the state is offering to compensate those whose properties were confiscated during the Sandinista government. At the time the bill was passed, some 900 million córdobas ($130 million) worth of bonds were already circulating. The Association of Confiscated, which represents the most intransigent former owners, rejected the law and claimed that only 391 of those who were expropriated have accepted the bonds.

According to the Ministry of Finances, nearly 117,000 cases have been filed reclaiming confiscated properties. Of these, 12,029 come under Law 85, passed by the outgoing Sandinista government to protect the new possessors of confiscated houses; all but 2,510 of those cases have already been reviewed. Another 10,382 are affected by law 88 (rural farms and land), of which 2,846 must still be reviewed before the June 1995 deadline set for both these and the Law 85 cases. Law 86 (urban lots) affects over 90,000 cases, of which more than 50,000 are pending review prior to their deadline, set for June 1996.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Warren Christopher announced on July 29 that a waiver has been extended to Nicaragua exempting it from the Helms González amendment, which would freeze aid to all countries that did not return all properties confiscated from US citizens by that same date. Christopher acknowledged the steps the Chamorro government has made to solve the property problem, including the bond law passed two weeks earlier. The lobbying by US Ambassador to Nicaragua John Maisto was decisive in obtaining this waiver. It ultimately had more weight than that of the Nicaraguan rightwing extremists, headed by the Association of Confiscated.

A PEOPLE'S DEFENDER?

A forum hosted by the United Nations, Nicaragua's National Assembly and the European Community, among others, was held in July to familiarize Nicaraguan civil society with the idea of a Human Rights Ombudsman, or Defender of the People, a post that does not yet exist in Nicaragua. There is a move to include it in the constitutional reform package, which is still "twisting in the wind" due to the executive branch's unwillingness to give up some of the attributes contemplated in the reforms.

DEBT WITH RUSSIA

The Nicaraguan government came to a pre agreement with its Russian counterpart on July 13 regarding Nicaragua's foreign debt with that country. Russia offered to pardon 85% of Nicaragua's $1.6 billion debt, long in arrears, and proposed to reach a definitive accord in 90 days.

AIDS SPREADING

According to Pan American Health Organization officials meeting in Managua, AIDS "is a time bomb for Nicaragua." An estimated 15,000 carriers in the country are still not exhibiting symptoms, but will be extremely ill in three to five years. Between 1987 and 1993, 95 HIV positive cases were detected in Nicaragua, of which 38 people have since died. So far in 1994, 28 new cases have been discovered and 5 deaths already reported. Honduras still holds the unenviable record in Central America, with 60,000 HIV carries.

COMPTROLLER'S OFFICE HAS A DIFFERENT VIRUS

The Comptroller General announced on August 4 that five of the twenty computers in his offices have been sabotaged with a virus, though he did not specify which one. These computers, used to audit state institutions, have lost all the information stored in them among it the data on the investigation into the suit filed against Mayor Alemán for misappropriation of public funds.

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